Scene. — Quarter-deck of H. M. S. Pinafore, off Portsmouth [on the south coast of England]. Sailors, led by Boatswain, discovered cleaning brasswork, splicing rope, etc.

Dramatis Personae: The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K. C. B. (First Lord of the Admiralty), Captain Corcoran (Commanding H. M. S. Pinafore), Tom Tucker (Midshipmite), Ralph Rackstraw (Able Seaman), Dick Deadeye (Able Seaman), Josephine (the Captain's daughter), Hebe (Sir Joseph's First Cousin), First Lord's Sisters, his Cousins, his Aunts; Sailors, Marines, etc.

Time: The Present [i.e, the late 1870s].

Enter Sir Joseph with Cousin Hebe.

SONG — SIR JOSEPH.

I am the monarch of the sea,
The ruler of the Queen's Navee,
Whose praise Great Britain loudly chants.

COUSIN HEBE. And we are his sisters, and his cousins and his aunts!

RELATIVES. And we are his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!

SIR JOSEPH. When at anchor here I ride,
My bosom swells with pride,
And I snap my fingers at a foeman's taunts;

COUSIN HEBE. And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!

ALL. And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!

SIR JOSEPH. But when the breezes blow,
I generally go below,
And seek the seclusion that a cabin grants;

COUSIN HEBE. And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!

ALL. And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
His sisters and his cousins,
Whom he reckons up by dozens,
And his aunts!

SONG — SIR JOSEPH.

When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

CHORUS. — He polished up that handle so carefullee
That now he is the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph. As office boy I made such a mark
That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.
I served the writs with a smile so bland,
And I copied all the letters in a big round hand —
I copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

CHORUS. — He copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now he is the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph.In serving writs I made such a name
That an articled clerk I soon became;
I wore clean collars and a brand-new suit
For the pass examination at the Institute,
And that pass examination did so well for me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

CHORUS. — And that pass examination did so well for he,
That now he is the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph. Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that junior partnership, I ween,
Was the only ship that I ever had seen.
But that kind of ship so suited me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

CHORUS. — But that kind of ship so suited he,
That now he is the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph. I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

CHORUS. — He thought so little, they rewarded he
By making him the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph. Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule —
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!

CHORUS. — Stick close close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!

Notes and Commentary (PVA)

Sir Joseph Porter, accompanied by a guard of a sergeant and two privates of the Royal Marines, enters at line 273. Comic baritone George Grossmith, who opened in the part of Sir Joseph at the Opera Comique, just off the Strand, on 25 May 1878, was made up to look like the hero of the Battles of the Nile and Trafalgar, Horatio, Lord Nelson — doubly appropriate since the set was based on the quarter-deck of Nelson's flagship Victory, anchored at Portsmouth. This is one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular "patter songs," so-called perhaps because of "The Paternoster": a priest typically would deliver a mass "in a low, rapid, mechanical way until he came to the words 'and lead us not into temptation', which he spoke clearly and deliberately" (Brewer's Phrase and Fable, p. 840).

The character of Sir Joseph Porter in terms of business background resembles that of bookseller William Henry Smith (1825-91), who had entered Parliament in 1868 and had been appointed First Lord of Admiralty in 1877, Smith having made a fortune through expanding hois father's bookselling business in the Strand by setting up railway station bookstalls and newsstands to become Britain's biggest bookseller and newsagent. The position of First Lord of the Admiralty as equivalent to the American "Secretary of the Navy" remained a cabinet post in the British government until 1964. Smith remained First Lord until the fall of Disraeli's Conservative government in 1880; however, wherever he went, people hummed "Sir Joseph Porter's Song" and the nickname "Pinafore Smith" stuck. "'When I was a lad' was even played by a Royal Marine Band when he went down to launch a ship at Devonport, although strict orders had gone out from the Port Admiral that music from Pinafore should on no account be performed" (Bradley 134).

The object of Gilbert's satire is not so much the person of publisher and politician W. H. Smith as the system that in essence de-professionalized command positions in the British armed forces, and promoted those with wealth and political connections rather than military ability. Thus, Gilbert was in effect attacking the long-standing aristocratic tradition of purchasing commissions. Instead of "serving a term" as a midshipman (which was the conventional route leading to officer status and ship's command), Sir Joseph has taken a strictly political route to the Admiralty. His being accompanied by "Cousin Hebe" may be Gilbert's method of ridiculing thinking of himself as an Olypian deity, for Hebe was the patron goddess of youth and youthful beauty, and cupbearer of the gods in Greek mythology — her cup was said to have the ability to retore old men to youthful vigour (as demonstrated by Sir Joseph's prancing around the stage). That Hebe eventually married the deified hero Herakles may also be significant in Gilbert's resolving the problem of the marriage of Sir Joseph and Captain Corcoran's daughter, Josephine.

Line 303. "served the writs" indicates that the office-boy had been promoted by the "Attorney's firm" (i. e., after the Judicature Act of 1873 a company of common law courts "attorneys" and "solicitors," that is, those lawyers who practiced in the courts of equity) to the job of "process-server," conveying such legal documents as summonses that require persons so "served" to appear in court.

Lines 310, 312. Sir Joseph became "an articled clerk" so that he would, after an apprenticeship, be qualified as a solicitor. One of our readers, Mary S. Butler, writes from Sheffield to explain, "This being England we have a split profession (I should know because I am a Solicitor — an ex-Articled Clerk — married to a Barrister). Sir Joseph Porter would clearly have been qualifying as a Solicitor not a Barrister and hence would have sat the Law Society's exams (or whatever the Victorian equivalent was) but not definitely not under any circumstances, the Bar Exams." [For more on Gilbert and the Victorian legal profession, see London Characters and the Humourous Side of London Life (1871) written by both W. S. Gilbert and a thus-far unidentified "Mr. Jones." [GPL]

Line 326. Sir Joseph, once a partner in a successful law firm, ran for a relatively safe parliamentary seat, a "pocket borough" being controlled by a single wealthy individual who had the seat "in his pocket" because he directed how a handful of electors would vote. Such seats were effectively wiped out by the Great Reform Bill of 1832, which would suggest that Sir Joseph is a politician of exceedingly advanced age!

References

Bradley, Ian, ed. "Sir Joseph Porter's Song." H. M. S. Pinafore, Act One. The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1996. Pp. 133-137.

Evans, Ivor, ed. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. New York: Harper and Row, 1981.

Gilbert, W. S. H. M. S. Pinafore. Act One. The Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: The Modern Library, 1936. Pp. 109-111.

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20 March 2006